04. - 08.12.2013: Aurangabad - Ajanta Caves - Ellora Caves - Daulatabad Fort - Bibi-Ka-Maqbara - Panchakki Watermill

Click on a photo to enlarge it.

Wed, 04.12.2013: Mumbai −> Aurangabad, cloudy, 28-32°C

Neither of us slept much. We got up, packed, paid the bill, struggled with the very slow internet and gave up trying to book a flight from Goa to Delhi. I phoned up the hotel in Goa that we had reserved, who now wanted a deposit by way of a Bank Transfer. I told him that the 6000 Rupees deposit he wanted would cost 4000 Rupees in charges. He said the charges were 'unfortunate' but he couldn't take a payment by Visa and only a Bank Transfer would be acceptable. I refused and he wouldn't keep the reservation. So now we don't have a reservation for Goa over Christmas or a flight to Delhi! We'll just have to hope we can find internet elsewhere and work something out later.

We got a taxi to Dadar railway station further north in Mumbai and got onto the train to Aurangabad. We had seats in an A/C compartment and had a hard job getting our heavy bag up onto the rack above our seats.

The train left on time at 2pm and arrived on time at 8-30pm. The train carriage was quite old and the A/C was set to Arctic conditions! We got really cold and had never thought we might need warmer clothing! I even went out into the space between the carriages to warm up! We are learning, slowly but surely.

There was a constant stream of people coming through selling food, drinks and taking orders for hot food. At every stop, sellers jumped on board to ply their wares. Then a man got on board and even though I had my eyes closed, he wanted to talk to me. The problem was, I couldn't understand a word! Neither could Kirsten or any of the other passengers, some of whom could speak English.

He was very persistent and kept prodding me and calling me Sir! I kept saying I don't understand and eventually, I gave up and tried to ignore him. He just carried on talking! Finally, he got up and on his way out, he had some kind of an argument with a group of people in their 20s sitting further forward in the carriage. It was all in Hindu and he made some kind of a parting shot as he left. The whole group burst into laughter!! We have no idea what it was all about.

Once in Aurangabad, we got a taxi to our hotel which isn't far from the station, checked in and had our photos taken by one of the men at reception on his mobile phone! We also had to fill out a form and hand over our passports for a copy to be taken. Our room is on the third floor - there is a lift - and is quite basic but relatively clean. It is a lot cheaper than the one in Mumbai so we can't complain for only $19 per night.

It has an en suite bathroom, and we had to wipe something off one of the walls. There is only cold water for the shower but there is a bucket and plastic jug so we boiled up some water using our new kettle! The beds are really hard and we had to ask for top sheets again. This was the same in Mumbai and seems to be the norm. There is a sheet covering the mattress and a blanket but no top sheet. There is no fridge but cable TV and a phone for the reception and room service!

As it was quite late, we went down to the hotel restaurant for a meal - a vegetable rice dish and a chop suey style dish. Not bad for $3. We also bought some bottled water for tea and to use for cleaning our teeth. We didn't unpack our bags and just put some clothes in to soak and wrote the diary.

Thu, 05.12.2013: Aurangabad, sunny, 29°C

We walked to the tourist office and booked a tour to Ajanta Caves for the following day. We booked a flight from Goa to Delhi on the internet for the 29th December and decided to extend our stay in Hampi for an extra two nights as we had met people who had raved about it. We had found an internet place where we could use our own computer and LAN cable just across the road from the tourist office which only cost us $1 for 90 minutes.

We also looked up restaurants recommended on Trip Advisor and got a Tuc Tuc to one of them - Kream 'N' Krunch. It was really good. We had a Thali, which is a meal with various dishes served in small metal pots. One of the owners spoke perfect English and helped us with our choices. We had one veg Thali and one Non-veg. The menus don't use the word 'Meat' but always refer to such dishes as 'Non-veg'.

We also bought two apple pies and two pieces of gateau to take with us back to the hotel for later. This seems to be the only bakery in town who makes gateaux. Back at the hotel, I phoned up our hotels in Hampi and Hospet to alter our bookings so all we need to do now is to change our train tickets and we have everything organised until 29th December.

We spent a few hours writing our website and ate our cakes in between - yummy but very sweet. We will certainly recommend the restaurant Kream 'N' Krunch!

Fri, 06.12.2013: Aurangabad, sunny, 28°C

We were picked up just before 9am outside our hotel by a taxi to take us to Ajanta Caves. There was a couple from Mumbai who would also be on the tour. The taxi was almost half an hour late and it seemed as if he was trying to make up for it on the way. It was a death-defying ride for 2.5 hours!

We had so many near misses with Tuc Tucs, motorcyclists, pedestrians and trucks it was unbelievable. Kirsten was the unfortunate one sitting in the front seat and had very sweaty palms and at least two heart attacks!! I closed my eyes - we would either make it or we wouldn't!

After 2 hours we stopped for a short toilet stop and then drove the last 20 minutes to the entrance. We arranged to meet our driver in the same place between 3pm and 3-30pm and then got a pollution free bus for the final 4km from the entrance gate to the caves.

Ajanta is a World Heritage Site consisting of Buddhist caves "fiercely guarding its hordes of priceless artistic treasures from another era". They are 105km North East of Aurangabad and date from 200 BC to 600 AD. The 30 caves line the steep face of a horse-shoe shaped rock gorge bordering the Waghore River.

Cave 1 is a monastery and was the last to be excavated. It is also the most beautifully decorated with paintings that were, unfortunately, too dark to see. No flash photography was allowed. The paintings were better in Cave 2. Cave 6 is a two storey monastery that has a seated Buddha inside and an intricately carved door to the shrine.

Cave 10 is thought to be the oldest, built in 200 BC and there is a pillar that bears the name of John Smith, the British officer who discovered them in 1819. Caves 17 and 26 were Kirsten's favourites for the paintings and huge reclining Buddha respectively.

I liked Cave 23 because of the elderly Indian female employee who beckoned me inside and gave me a tour even though she didn't speak a word of English!! The cave was unfinished and I was allowed to climb over the various parts and she took me to the back of the cave and banged the wall - it produced an echo. The cave had acoustic properties.

I searched out Kirsten so she could go on the same "tour" and we gave her a tip. Kirsten returned to Cave 2 which she'd left out the first time because of crowds. But there were a large group of Buddhist monks praying inside so she missed it again!

We walked across a bridge and up to a small waterfall, then returned along the river to the car park to wait for the bus. We made the mistake of getting out our plastic containers with some food inside, thinking we would eat before getting on the bus, but the monkeys had a different idea. They raced down from the tree and came at us!!

We barely had time to close the lids on our containers and Kirsten stuck her foot out at one of the females with a baby who even bared her teeth!! Maybe it was the smell of Kirsten's sweaty feet that stopped her!!

We should have known better as we'd seen monkeys around and Kirsten had already seen a monkey grab a packet of crisps from a visitor earlier. They can certainly be aggressive when it comes to food. Anyway, we survived our encounter and got onto the bus without eating.

We rejoined the couple for our 2 hour taxi ride back. They said he was a good driver for an Indian - could have fooled me!! Kirsten opted for the back seat for the ride home and we talked to the couple so it didn't seem as bad.

We got back at 5-30pm and it had been a long day. I had been carrying a heavy backpack for the 2.5 hours we spent at the caves because we didn't have a safe in our hotel room and we'd taken our computer, e-readers and cameras, along with passports, money, drinks and food. So it weighed quite a bit.

When we returned to our room, it had been cleaned but they had only left one towel and we also had a brand new bucket, plastic jug and stool that still had the labels on! No idea why they went out and bought new ones as the old ones were fine.

We returned to Kream 'N' Krunch for another very good meal - Butter chicken, Mackni Dahl (lentil curry), Baghwan Aloo (crispy potatoes filled with spicy cottage cheese) - that were far too hot for me and even too much for Kirsten who seems to do better with the spicy stuff. We also took another piece of butterscotch gateau back with us.

Horror taxi ride. Ajanta Caves. Dinner in Aurangabad.

Sat, 07.12.2013: Aurangabad, sunny, 28°C

We got up early again and Aleem, our taxi driver for the day, picked us up from the hotel at 8-30am. He drove us to Ellora Caves, (250R per person plus 10R amenities charge) which are 30km out of Aurangabad.

The epitome of ancient Indian rock-cut architecture, these caves were chipped out laboriously over five centuries by generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks. They are another World Heritage Site and line a 2km long escarpment.

The crowds had already arrived so Aleem took us to the Jain caves first as they are at the far end and we might have a better chance of avoiding all the people. The five Jain caves may lack the artistic vigour and ambitious size of the best Hindu temples, but they are exceptionally detailed and richly decorated. They all had well preserved sculptures and caves 32 to 34 were linked by passages.

We managed to be able to see them without too many people getting in the photos. Then Aleem drove us to Cave 29 which is the last of the Hindu caves and thought to be a transitional cave between the simpler, hollowed out caves and the fully developed temples.

Then he drove us to the main parking area and we walked along the rest of the escarpment to see the others. The Buddhist caves date from 200 BC to 600 AD; the Hindu caves from 500 to 900 AD and the Jain caves from 800 to 1,000 AD.

Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist - Cave 2 has ornate pillars and an imposing seated Buddha; Cave 5 is large with columns and stone benches but otherwise empty; Cave 10 is one of the finest assembly halls in India. The ceiling features ribs carved in the stonework that were once filled with wooden panels; Cave 11 wasn't discovered until 1876 and is also large; Cave 12 is a 3 storey structure and huge.

Caves 13 to 29 are Hindu and were all cut from the top down, beginning with the roof and moving down to the floor. Cave 15 is a very good one with elephant sculptures, a large cow and lots of pillars.

Cave 16 is unbelievable!. Also called the Kailasa Temple, it is speculated that it took 100 years to complete. Three huge trenches were bored into the sheer cliff face with hammers and chisels and 200,000 tonnes of rock were removed to build this magnificent temple. There are immense monolithic pillars flanking the entrance to the courtyard and 10 giant panels depicting the different avatars of Lord Vishnu.

We went up a steep path at the side to get views from the top. It was the best way to see the enormous size, scale and scope of the structure. How on earth did they manage to create it? Truly unbelievable!

We went back down and plunged into the crowds to take a closer look at all the detail. By then we had spent over 3 hours climbing up and down very large rock steps and after Kailasa Temple, the others paled into insignificance.

Aleem had waited patiently for us and we met up with him at 1pm and drove to the Ghrishneshwar Temple, which was built in the 18th Century and has 24 carved, stone columns supporting the main hall. Photos weren't allowed. It is one of 12 Jyortirlinga Temples that form a pilgrimage in India.

Next stop was a silk factory where we saw how hand woven Saris and shawls are made using wooden looms that are passed down from one generation to the next. It takes two months to make one Sari which can cost up to $1000 US and it takes two years of training to be able to use the looms.

Afterwards we went to Daulatabad Fort - one of the best preserved Medieval forts from the 12th Century with a moat surrounding it. Unfortunately, the moat was very green and had a lot of plastic bottles floating in it. You can climb to the top of the fort by going through the Bat Cave and a labyrinthine set of passages. It was pitch black, however, we didn't have a torch with us and the Bat Cave stunk to high heaven!! So we gave that a miss!

Continuing on our tour, we went to Bibi-Ka-Maqbara which is a mini Taj Mahal. It was built in 1679 by a son as a tribute to his mother. This son was the grandson of the man who built the 'real' Taj Mahal in Agra. We got there at 4-40pm and had a good reflection of the building in a pool of water. I'm sure there is no comparison to the Taj Mahal in Agra despite the fact that it is a replica but we will find out when we go to see the real one!

Our final stop of the day was Panchakki, a 17th Century water mill which also serves as a memorial to Sufi Saint. The mill used to crush grain for the pilgrims.

It was an exhausting day and Aleem dropped us off at the hotel at 5-30pm. He had been a very good driver and an excellent guide. It cost us 1200 R for the two of us ($20) which is more than going on a group tour but it was well worth the extra because Aleem waited for us at each stop. In other words, we determined how long we would spend at each place. We can certainly recommend him.

We had showers, washed some clothes and got a tuc tuc, past a lively wedding that was causing a traffic jam as the people spilled out onto the road, and went to Kream 'N' Krunch for another superb meal. This time Kirsten had a pizza and I had macaroni cheese! Hardly Indian food but we felt like something different. We also bought home made cookies to take with us.

Ellora Caves. Silk factory. Daulatabad Fort. Bibi-Ka-Maqbara. Rickshaw jam.

On our way back we found a tuc tuc whose driver didn't know Aurangabad very well. He had to pick up another man to give him directions for part of the way, and then we helped once we found the roads near the hotel and told him where to go. We even gave him instructions how to get back to the railway station afterwards!!

Sun, 08.12.2013: Aurangabad, sunny, 28°C, overnight train to Warangal.

We worked on the website for most of the day so that Kirsten could go to the internet and do an update. Whilst she was gone I did the packing as we would be getting an overnight train tonight. Fortunately, we could stay in our hotel room and arranged a check out time of 8pm when Aleem picked us up to take us to the station.

A train had just arrived when we got there and we had to wait a long time for the crowds to get down the steps so that we could get our luggage over to the next platform. There are no ramps or lifts here so we had to negotiate the steep steps up and back down. One of the wheels on our large roller bag had split and shed the outer plastic cover! We hope the remaining part will hold for a while otherwise we will have to carry it everywhere.

We had paid for two seats in an A2 sleeper compartment with Air conditioning but only had one designated bed as we were on the waiting list for the other. We had been told that there would be a list on the door of the train compartment and would probably get a bed in the same area. There is no guarantee but we were told that we could always share the bed!

Our ticket said A2 - 3. When we looked at the overhead digital signs telling passengers where to stand, we saw S3 and went to stand there. We saw that the S numbers went up to S9 and 10 further up the platform. Kirsten went to check and found an A2 right at the other end. Our 3 was the seat number, not the compartment number. It's a good job we noticed otherwise we would have got on the train virtually at the front and would have had to haul our luggage all the way through to the other end!

The journey would be 15 hours from 9pm to 12pm the next day and the train was 15 minutes late. When we got on it was pitch black inside. All the 4-bed compartments were partitioned off with floor to ceiling curtains in various states of repair, but there were no numbers anywhere. A man who got on behind us told us we were at the other end. So we walked through in the dark and then someone switched the light on in the aisle so we managed to find bed number three - a bottom bunk.

The other 3 beds were already taken with people apparently sleeping. We found a brown paper bag containing two white sheets, clean and ironed, and there was also a blanket and pillow! We pushed our bag and large rucksack under the seat and attached our two small backpacks to each other and to the large rucksack. We also had padlocks and a wire strap if we needed them.

Kirsten went out to look for the list but came back saying there wasn't one. So we didn't know where our other bed was, or if we actually had one. We made our bed and got in fully clothed. About 30 minutes later, the conductor came along. I showed him our tickets and then followed him so he could show me where the other bed was. It was right down the other end of the compartment! We didn't want to split up and our luggage was better off where it was because it was wedged in under the bunk. So we decided to share the bed.

The beds were 90 degrees to the window, our heads were nearest the window and our feet were pointing towards the aisle. We were being rocked quite a bit but not the way we had expected. The train was rocking sideways which meant that we would be pushed towards our feet and then pulled back towards our heads, in a continuous but very uneven way. It was going to be impossible to fall asleep and our necks were going to ache a lot!

The curtain was totally inadequate, didn't fit the gap and had a safety pin holding it closed in the middle! The aisle light was blinding me but people were still getting on at each stop. Eventually someone switched it off. Maybe overnight trains are not such a good idea!